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French Republic, République française

Last modified: 2003-01-18 by ivan sache
Keywords: france | europe | civil ensign | tricolore | constitution | lafayette |
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[French Flag]by Zeljko Heimer

Flag adopted (as an ensign) by decree of 27 pluviôse, year II (15 February 1794)
Proportion: 2:3
Description: Vertically divided blue-white-red
Use: on land, civil and state flag.

Colour approximate specifications (as given in Album des Pavillons [pay00]):

  • Blue: Pantone 282 c / CMYK (%) C 100 - M 70 - Y 0 - K 50
  • Red: Pantone 186 c / CMYK (%) C 0 - M 90 - Y 80 - K 5

On this page:

See also:

Origin of the flag

In brief we can accept that the colours are basically those of Paris as used on the day of the storming of the Bastille, mixed with the Royal white. It is thought that the Marquis de Lafayette was responsible for inventing the red, white and blue cockade which soon became compulsory for Revolutionaries in 1789. We don't have to believe that the combination arose because the King placed a red-blue cockade in his hat next to a Royal white one, but combinations of Revolutionary and Royal emblems were common at that time.

The flag was created in 1790 but with the colours the reverse of what they are today, i.e. with red at the hoist, and revised in 1794 to the modern form. The 1790 flag existed only as part of the jack and ensign of the navy.

The flag went out of use with Napoléon I's defeat at Waterloo, but was brought back in 1830 (again by Lafayette) and has remained in use ever since. Although significances have been attached to the colours these are all spurious and invented after the fact. The red and blue of Paris were the livery colours of the coat of arms and natural ones for use by the militia.

William Crampton

Napoléon I standardized first in 1804 to a white field chape-chausse of red and blue, and in 1812 to the modern French flag. In 1804 took place the distribution of new flags to the regiments, and it is at that time that the near-religious rituals surrounding regimental flags were adopted.

François Velde, 30 June1995

Colours of the flag

The colors of the French flag "combine" different symbols, invented after the fact:

  • Blue is the color of Saint Martin, a rich Gallo-Roman officer who ripped his blue coat with his sword to give one half of it to a poor who was begging him in the snow. This is the symbol of care, of the duty that the rich had to help the poor.
  • White is the color of the Virgin Mary, to whom the Kingdom of France was consecrated by Louis XIII in the 17th century; it is also the color of Joan of Arc, under whose banner the English were finally driven out of the Kingdom (15th century). It became logically the color of Royalty. The King's vessels carried plain white flags at sea.
  • Red is the color of Saint Denis, the saint patron of Paris. The original oriflamme (war banner) of the Kings was the red oriflamme of Saint Denis.

Pierre Gay, 15 September 1998

Most French flags, at least in the beginning of their use, have a very dark blue shade, sometimes called bleu drapeau (flag blue). Petit Larousse Illustré has nothing on bleu drapeau, but has :

Bleu roi: bleu soutenu (celui du drapeau francais), i.e. King blue: strong blue (the blue of the French flag)'.

Therefore, it seems that the use of a dark blue for the French flag has been widely accepted, since it is highligted to examplify the 'king blue' shade.

Ivan Sache, 23 September 2001

For the naval flags, the maintenance service of the French Navy (HCC) gives the following specifications (in reference to AFNOR standardNFX 08002):

  • Blue A 503
  • White A 665
  • Red A 805

Blue Pantone 282c and red 186c are my translation (approximation) of those colours.

Armand Noël du Payrat, 24 September 2001

Nickname of the flag

Nouveau Petit Larousse Illustré has for Tricolore the following entry:

Tricolore adj. (du pref. tri , et du latin color , couleur). De trois couleurs. Le drapeau tricolore, le drapeau français. - L'origine des trois couleurs qui figurent dans notre drapeau national remonte à l'année1789 : pour cimenter la bonne intelligence entre le roi et la ville de Paris, dans la journée où, suivant le mot heureux de Bailly, Paris reconquit son roi, on réunit à la couleur blanche, qui était celle de la royauté, le bleu et le rouge, couleurs qui figuraient dans les armes de la ville de Paris.

[Tricolore adj. (from prefix tri and Latin color, colour). Of three colours. Le drapeau tricolore: The French flag. - The origins of the three colours figuring on our national flag go back to year 1789: In order to create a good relation between the King and the city of Paris, on the day where, as Bailly expressed it rejoicing, Paris reconquered its King, the colour white, which was that of royalty, was associated with blue and red, which are colours figuring in the arms of the city of Paris.

Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 26 September 2001

Official adoption decree

The French National Convention adopted as national flag the three colours blue, white, red on 15 February 1794 - or more exactly, on 27 pluviôse an II in the revolutionary calendar. The decree says (in my own free translation):

    II. The national flag shall be formed of the three national colours, set in three equal bands, vertically disposed so that the blue is attached to the staff of the flag, the white in the middle, and the red flying in the air.
    III. The jacks and the daily ensign are formed in the same way, observing the size proportions established by custom.
    IV. The commissioning pennant shall be also formed of the three colours, with one-fifth blue, one-fifth white, and three-fifths red.

Armand Noël du Payrat, 4 February 1998

The flag in the Constitution

The present Constitution of the French Republic (1958) says:

L'emblème national est le drapeau tricolore, bleu, blanc, rouge (The national emblem is the tricolor, blue, white, red, flag)

Pierre Gay, 24 September 1998

Civil ensign

French ensignby Zeljko Heimer

The proportions of vertical stripes on the French flag when used at sea as the civil or naval ensign or jack are 30:33:37, to give a good visual effect when flying, and therefore called optical proportions.

Zeljko Heimer, 23 September 1995

The Tricolore ensign was adopted by decree dated 27 pluviôse an II (15 February 1794) and by decree dated 7 March 1848. The proportions 30:33:37 were decided by regulation dated 17 May 1853.

Armand Noël du Payrat, 29 August 1997

The regulation of 1853 gives the precise measurements, in metres and centimetres, of the standard legal ensigns, numbered from 1 to 16. #1 is 9 m x 13.5 m and #16 is 50 cm x 75 cm.

Pierre Gay, 24 September 1998

Vertical national flag

[Vertical flag]by Ivan Sache

When hoisted vertically, the French national flag is very often forked.